Diabetes & Nutrition


Diagnosing The Best Diabetes Diet

Consistently consuming a healthy and enjoyable diet is a constant challenge for patients who live with diabetes, let alone during the holidays. And it can be just as difficult for nurses to keep their patients committed to a meal plan that will not exacerbate disease complications. While a diabetes diagnosis does not alter one’s nutritional needs, more diligence toward portion control and regular meal times will determine how well blood sugar is controlled.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy eating plan for those who are diabetic revolves around a rich assortment of nutrients and low intake of fats and empty calories — with fruits, vegetables and whole grains being key components to any patient’s diet in this population. Generally speaking, a healthy diabetes diet also centers on three meals per day and consists of an assortment of healthy carbohydrates (preferably fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils and low-fat dairy items). Patients are also advised to eat fish (namely cod, tuna, halibut, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and bluefish) that is lower in fat and cholesterol than is meat and poultry, yet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, on average of twice per week. Foods to avoid include fatty and high-cholesterol fried foods, high-fat dairy, butter, margarine, and bacon.1 If nuts are consumed they should be unsalted and limited, and too much protein can lead to kidney disease more quickly, according to officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also suggests that proteins from plants may be better than those from animals.1 Small portions of meat, fish or poultry (no more than 3 ounces at one sitting) can be complemented by being mixed with beans, peas, vegetables, fruits, grains, tofu and other soy products.1

Food Prep Parameters

Selecting foods based solely on ingredients is only part of the appropriateness of healthy meal planning for diabetes, say officials with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). How food items are actually prepared can go a long way to ensuring that smart choices are not sabotaged by unhealthy prep in the kitchen. The NIDDK promotes the use of oils when cooking as opposed to butter, cream, shortening, lard and/or stick margarine. The NIDDK also suggests employing the plate method (for lunch and dinner) for controlling portion sizes, instead of simply counting calories. This method shows the amount of each food group that patients should eat by using a 9-inch-size plate for maintaining balanced portions. Patients should be encouraged to place non-starchy vegetables on half of the plate, a meat or other protein on one-fourth of the plate and a grain or other starch on the other one-fourth of the plate. A small bowl of fruit (or a piece of fruit) and small glass of milk can also be included in the meal plan.

For breakfast, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) offers some easy recipe ideas for popular morning foods, including: eggs (scramble, wrap in a whole-wheat tortilla, add sliced bell peppers and tomatoes, dash with hot sauce); cereal (whole grain or bran, ½ cup low-fat and unsweetened almond/soy milk, top with fresh berries); blended smoothie (½ cup of non-fat plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons low-fat milk, ½ cup frozen fruit, tablespoon of peanut butter, sprinkle of ground flax or cinnamon): yogurt parfait (½ cup non-fat yogurt, ½ cup berries with chopped pecans); oatmeal (¼ cup of quick oats, ½ cup water, microwave, teaspoon of Splenda® Brown Sugar Blend, add cinnamon and handful of dry-roasted nuts with tablespoon of dried fruit); and cottage cheese parfait (½ cup cottage cheese, ½ cup canned peaches/pineapple/raspberries/blueberries, handful of nuts).

As the winter holidays begin to hit their stride, the ADA also recommends that healthcare providers remind their patients that anticipating the meals they intend to eat (and/or be tempted to eat) can help to avoid temporarily creating poor habits during the season. Patients who are prescribed insulin injections or pills that lower glucose may need to eat a snack at their normal mealtime to prevent a low blood glucose reaction if their holiday meal is planned for a time that is different from when they typically eat. With “nibbling” and “grazing” of food also is more common this time of year, patients must be mindful of what they are eating before they actually sit down to eat.

A platter of raw or blanched vegetables with a low-calorie dip or a few small pieces of low-fat cheese could be safe considerations for picking at food while at a party. During meals, if stuffing is a favorite food item, patients should then be educated to pass on rolls and other breads. Choosing sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes (not both) is also advised. And because high-carbohydrate foods are likely to be available in excess during most holiday feasts, portion sizes become very important. By offering to bring a healthy salad or steamed vegetable, patients can be given strategies for ensuring that healthy food options are available to them.

Dietitian Referral

The Mayo Clinic also suggests that any care plan for diabetes patients also involve the insight of a dietitian for better weight and glucose management, as well as for better control of risk factors that are more likely to lead to heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high blood fats, among this population. A dietitian can also be relied upon to discuss a patient’s eating habits and ongoing, help them to establish realistic goals for health and help them to develop personal nutrition plans.

1. Darrah J. Practical nutrition guidance for patients living with diabetes. ADVANCE for Nurses. 2018. Accessed online: http://nursing.advanceweb.com/practical-nutrition-guidance-for-patients-living-with-diabetes


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About Author

Joe Darrah

Joe Darrah is a freelance author based in the Philadelphia region who has been covering the healthcare field since 2004. He may be reached at jdarrah17@yahoo.com.


  1. Those recommending these low fat diets have lost sight of the basic problem with low fat diets: fat slows digestion and leaves the individual feeling full and satisfied for far longer. Low fat meals often leave the individual hungry and looking for food much sooner. Unfortunately, this is often a ticket for unfortunately snacking and weight gain rather than dietary and weight control or loss.

  2. The problem with the recommended low fat diet is that it often leaves one feeling hungry soon after eating. Fat slows digestion and leaves the individual feeling sated for hours longer. This low fat diet idea has major flaws.

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